Age Is A Privilege, Unless You Forget!

  • Dates
    2020 - Ongoing
  • Author
  • Location London, United Kingdom

'Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget!' is an exploration of life, love and loss. Multi-layered, this project was born out of an intimate collaboration with the artist’s father, Charles, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2012.

Age is a privilege, but what if we forget?

This is the central question I explore in my ongoing project Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget!, which has developed out of a long practice of exploring mental and physical health, addressing a range of themes, such as vulnerability and control. In this project I take a close look at the wide-ranging effects of Alzheimer's, reflecting on my life and experiences as a starting point.

At the core of Age is a Privilege, Unless Your Forget!, I consider the life of my father Charles, and elements of it that I was previously unaware of before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's eleven years ago, such as his penchant for photography and documenting moments in his everyday life, from site visits for his role as agricultural trader to family holidays and birthday parties. We are united by our unique way of seeing and representing the world. Connecting our individual practices, we found a kind of common ground and I was inspired to not only scan and print my father’s images but to manipulate and develop them further on the basis of recorded conversations with him in which I identified people, places and objects that he has completely forgotten; remembers vaguely but within different contexts; and can fully recall, including his wife Hazel, my mother.

Through processes of cutting, scraping, and the use of stickers to intervene with my father’s photographs, I am seeking to depict both the decline of his cognitive health and the physical approach I have adopted to grieve my father while he is still alive. In this project, the recurring use of stickers is intended to represent the loss of my father's memory, while the colour of each sticker underscores the extent to which he has forgotten a particular individual, setting, or event. When viewing these sliced, scraped, and crumpled images, viewers get the sense of my pain, as well as gaining an insight into the disorder and displacement of the memories of those with dementia.

If one were to combine my photographs with those of my father, it is quite possible that viewers would struggle to identify the image maker. In fact, this was very much the case during a recent exhibition of this project in the Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts, Dublin, in which I included two of my own photographs alongside images by my father - even the Curator could only spot one of my two photographs by the end of the exhibition!

By illustrating the development of my father's illness and giving his experience a physical form, this project invites others to gain a profound insight into the loss of memory. The personal becomes universal. Viewers are immersed in the life of the man, father, and business owner, Charles Wynne – his work, his travels, his family – and my experience of living and coping with his illness. Simultaneously, they are faced with thoughts and memories of their own loved ones who may be enduring the effects of dementia or other illness. This project then becomes a way of learning, coping, and feeling one's way through losing the parts of a person they once knew and how that person formerly understood them.  

Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget! engages viewers and invites them to find their own unique way of responding to the project, as well as experiences they may have of witnessing the decline in memory of people in their lives. It is through engagement with this project, in the form of exhibition and/or publication that viewers will learn more about my experience and practice, as well as discovering more about themselves. Inside the lost and found memories of my father and me, those interacting with this project are encouraged to form a mosaic of their own recollections, reveries, and feelings.

While photography is the core medium of this project, it has developed since 2020 to encompass other media and disciplines. For example, when this project was exhibited for the first time in the Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts, Dublin (RHA), an immersive projection existed alongside photographs; found objects, including my father's desk and chair; and a sculpture in the form of a 3D printed bust, which can be viewed in the attached images. You can view the film I made as part of this project here. Moreover, I injected the exhibition with poetry, a medium that has long been associated with the visual arts, particularly photography in the last century. This interdisciplinary aspect of the exhibition diversified the ways in which visitors connected to the subjects and topics addressed in the show. Dementia is largely based on points of connection or synapses in the brain. Moving from one language to another requires different types of connections. Thus, connecting a poem to a photograph, or a photograph to a poem, echoes what is happening in the brain. My own narration of a poem I wrote to my father accompanied the film projection in the exhibition. The words I assembled into a poem to express myself to my father can be likened to the manner in which he made snapshots of moments in his life to express himself.

Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget! demonstrates the power of photography, beyond visual means. It is a form of therapy - a way to grieve, reflect, and eventually heal. Through this project, and indeed my wider practice, I aim to challenge those engaging with it to think about photography in a new way - as something that exists outside of specific genres and labels.

Told from the perspective of a woman - a daughter, sister and mother - my personal journey with my father when making this project, as well as the developments in our relationship since his diagnosis, are central to the strength of Age is a Privilege, Unless Your Forget!. For so many people who think they must react, feel, or behave in a particular manner when caring for or living with a loved one who is ill, this project nullifies that stigma and encourages you to find the power in your unique experience and mode of expression. This project does not serve as a gesture to the end - of living, relationships, and feeling. Rather, it reminds us of some of the beautiful outcomes of change: often, as was my personal experience, you can grow closer to the person whose personality and memory are altering with the effects of dementia and as Consultant Psychiatrist Dr. Declan Lyons of St Patrick's Mental Health Services, Dublin says, there can be benefits to forgetting certain moments in your life. For instance, my father had a long-held fear, or what could be referred to as residual memory, i.e. a memory directly passed through generations or progeny, of death, which no longer hangs over him. He has found peace in this way.

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro, 'Mother and Forgotten Child', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cm, giclée print.
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Debbie Castro, 'Mother and Forgotten Child', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cm, giclée print.

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro, 'The fingerprint', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cm, giclée print.
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Debbie Castro, 'The fingerprint', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cm, giclée print.

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro, 'The brain lies', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cm, giclée print.
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Debbie Castro, 'The brain lies', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cm, giclée print.

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro, 'Death and Existence', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cm, giclée print.
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Debbie Castro, 'Death and Existence', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cm, giclée print.

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro, 'The repeat and meditate', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cm, giclée print.
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Debbie Castro, 'The repeat and meditate', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cm, giclée print.

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro, 'The hidden lie', 2023, 60 x 75cm, giclée print.
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Debbie Castro, 'The hidden lie', 2023, 60 x 75cm, giclée print.

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro, 'God and the atheist', 2023, 40 x 30cm, giclée print.
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Debbie Castro, 'God and the atheist', 2023, 40 x 30cm, giclée print.

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro, 'My wife is my mother', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cm, giclée print.
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Debbie Castro, 'My wife is my mother', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cm, giclée print.

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro, 'Til death do us part', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cm, giclée print, blade-cut.
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Debbie Castro, 'Til death do us part', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cm, giclée print, blade-cut.

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro, 'The Man and the Pitchfork, the Child and the Doll', 2023, 100 x 175cm, giclée print.
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Debbie Castro, 'The Man and the Pitchfork, the Child and the Doll', 2023, 100 x 175cm, giclée print.

© Debbie Castro - Image from the Age Is A Privilege, Unless You Forget! photography project
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Exhibition view: Debbie Castro, Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget, Petronella Brown Gallery, Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts, Dublin, Ireland, 2023.Image credit: Ros Kavanagh

© Debbie Castro - Image from the Age Is A Privilege, Unless You Forget! photography project
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Debbie Castro, Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget, Petronella Brown Gallery, Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts, Dublin, Ireland, 2023.Image credit: Ros Kavanagh

© Debbie Castro - Debbie Castro, 'Irk', 202360 x 75cm, Giclée print on Hahnemühle paper, torn
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Debbie Castro, 'Irk', 202360 x 75cm, Giclée print on Hahnemühle paper, torn

© Debbie Castro - Image from the Age Is A Privilege, Unless You Forget! photography project
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Exhibition view of Debbie Castro, 'Irk', 202360 x 75cm, Giclée print on Hahnemühle paper, torn, with the desk and chair of Charles Wynne.Image credit: Ros Kavanagh

© Debbie Castro - Image from the Age Is A Privilege, Unless You Forget! photography project
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Profile of Bust of Charles Wynne and View of 'Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget' in the Petronella Brown Gallery at The Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts, 2023.Image credit: Ros Kavanagh

© Debbie Castro - Bust of Charles Wynne, the artist's father, 3D printed sculpture, 2023.Image credit: Ros Kavanagh
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Bust of Charles Wynne, the artist's father, 3D printed sculpture, 2023.Image credit: Ros Kavanagh

© Debbie Castro - Image from the Age Is A Privilege, Unless You Forget! photography project
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Exhibition view of:Debbie Castro, 'Letter to Dad' 2023, 7 minutes , Video projectionNarration by Debbie Castro.Sound by Camilo Castro- Llach.Image credit: Ros Kavanagh

© Debbie Castro - Image from the Age Is A Privilege, Unless You Forget! photography project
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Exhibition view of:Debbie Castro, 'Letter to Dad' 2023, 7 minutes , Video projectionNarration by Debbie Castro.Sound by Camilo Castro- Llach.Image credit: Ros Kavanagh

© Debbie Castro - Image from the Age Is A Privilege, Unless You Forget! photography project
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Exhibition view of:Debbie Castro, It’s all back to front
. I’m sorry for not knowing you
, 2023, 30 x 40cmDebbie Castro, 'The forgotten'2023, 30 x 40cmDebbie Castro, 'Half a car door', 2023, 17.8 x 12.7cmImage credit: Ros Kavanagh

© Debbie Castro - Image from the Age Is A Privilege, Unless You Forget! photography project
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Exhibition view of:Debbie Castro, Age is a Privilege, Unless You Forget, Petronella Brown Gallery, Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts, Dublin, Ireland, 2023.Image credit: Ros Kavanagh